A new device invented by researchers at California's Palo Alto Research Center (PARC) could make it easier than ever to test for HIV on the go, reports Physorg.com. Since the handheld detector is about the size of an iPod, it could also help monitor HIV/AIDS epidemics in rural African regions where access to testing is currently nonexistent.
"You need a device that a health worker can put into a backpack to reach the people in Africa or Asia," said Peter Kiesel, one of the team's researchers.
In addition to being battery-powered and pocket-sized, the device is efficient, too. It can provide a full immune system check-up in less than 10 minutes without sacrificing quality. "The quality of their test is great," said researcher Bernhard Weigl of PATH, an independent reviewer. "If you look at their graph, it pretty much looked like the graph you would get from a big instrument."
The device works by analyzing a sample of blood small enough to be supplied by a pinprick to the finger. Laser technology scans the blood cells as they enter a tiny channel, and can identify the cells based on the light patterns that bounce off them. The idea is basically to count CD4+ T cells, which are the immune cells targeted by the HIV virus.
Of course, any HIV detector suitable for use in remote, impoverished regions needs to be cheap too, and PARC's prototype fits the bill. Currently, it costs about $250 to build, which is already around a hundred times cheaper than larger devices. The price should decrease as the technology develops and the marketplace swells with competition.
In fact, the best news for people who could benefit from this technology is that PARC is competing with at least a dozen other groups to invent a similar device, including projects funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Although none of the devices have hit the marketplace, the competition is quickening the process.
"I would be surprised if the first technologies aren't out by 2012," said Weigl. "The market is big; you're looking at many millions of users that have to get checked up every few months."